This page lists all the ConnCourses that have currently been approved. Not every ConnCourse is available every semester.
To find the ConnCourses offered in a particular semester, please see the online course schedule.
Who creates a building? An architect? The patrons and clients? The individuals who use the structure? How can a building represent political ideologies, power, and group identities? How have contemporary cities developed and how are they representations of complex patterns of growth and change? This course seeks to address these questions and many more through an exploration of the history of architecture, culture, society, technology, and the built environment from the fifteenth century to the present. Focusing on European and American examples in a global context, this course questions how architects and builders created a culture of building and how these buildings have shaped culture and society. Students will embark on a chronological journey through architectural history, exploring Brunelleschi’s unprecedented design for the dome of Florence Cathedral, the papal revival of Rome, the display of power by the French monarchy, how the British aristocracy created the model for New York’s Central Park, Thomas Jefferson’s vision for American architecture, and Frank Gehry’s revolutionary design for the Guggenheim Bilbao. Both elite monuments and everyday structures will be examined with an interdisciplinary approach, enabling students to explore issues of power and patronage, gendered spaces, vernacular architecture, public space and perception, material culture and domesticity, historic preservation, and architectural education and practice, and to create connections to other fields of study including economics, history, government, psychology, sociology, anthropology and religious studies.
Images flood our vision in twenty-first century life. We are surrounded by a constantly-changing visual field, with Netflix, t-shirts, news images, Instagram, beer advertising, and Facebook all simultaneously competing for our attention. On social media, we contribute our own deluge of photos, from selfies to animated GIFs. Without even noticing, we have learned to make split-second decisions about what to see and what to ignore, what to share and what to delete. How have images become so omnipresent and so powerful in our lives? Why do we find some images more effective than others? How does seeing influence our thoughts, behaviors, and identities? In this hands-on introduction to art history, we will explore how our contemporary ways of seeing continue to be shaped by the visual worlds of the past. We will consider the political, economic, social, and cultural implications of images like the Mona Lisa, and we will ask what kinds of value these images carry in the present (#monalisa). In the process, we will participate in the real practices of art history: working with actual art objects, using interdisciplinary approaches to discovering the meaning of images, and exploring unresolved debates.
Our material pasts, the objects and built environments we create, can endure long after we fade away. This course examines the material legacies of humans, beginning with the corporeal remains of our earliest hominin ancestors, and ending with the deluge of possessions and waste that go hand-in-hand with 21st century hyper–consumerism. Throughout, we apply the analytical lenses of archaeological anthropology to probe the human condition. What does it mean to be human, and are we fundamentally different - biologically, behaviorally - from other bipedal primates? In what ways do we create our material worlds, and how do these material worlds shape our everyday lives? Can the most enduring of human material legacies provide insights into variable expressions of culture that, ultimately, affect how we think about our own futures? Along the way, we explore the concepts, methods, and practices of archaeology: how the material record is formed and transformed; how to read and map geological and cultural strata; the significance of provenience and context; how human behavior and culture can be inferred from objects; and how archaeologists think about and measure time.
Power and Inequality in a Global World
Almost half of the world’s population lives in poverty. What are the mechanisms of power that reproduce inequality in different settings around the world? Through examining ethnographies of migration from the Middle East to Europe and from south to north in the Americas; systemic racism in the United States; issues of food access and security; and gender disparities in the workplace, students will identify the means by which power is used to create unequal access to resources in different contexts. Why do we have so much poverty on earth? What factors contribute to wealth gaps? How is poverty structuralized and institutionalized? What realities do people living in poverty face, and how do they deal with them? How do intersectional approaches to race, class, and gender apply? Using an anthropological approach, this course investigates how global economic systems reinforce the growing wealth gap and how cultural practices around race, class, and gender are often used to justify and reify unequal distributions. Students will use a variety of anthropological methods such as participant-observation, interviews, and the collection of visual data to gain first-hand knowledge of issues of inequality in our local community.
A hands-on introduction to the vibrant world of recorded sounds and moving images as a medium for artistic expression and cultural awareness. In our modern life we are constantly bombarded by electronic media: from GIFs to TVs, from smartphone screens to giant LED billboards. Students will become active media makers, learning to create, manipulate, and more consciously negotiate this torrent of media. Projects range from making sound recordings of our local environment to crafting animations and audio-video mash-ups. Students will examine ways in which these new media connect to drawing, painting, architecture, film, music, and technological culture.
Decoding Color: Factual vs. Actual Color
Bright yellow is one of the easiest colors to detect in human vision, making it a good color choice for humanitarian food parcels. In 2001, cluster bombs dispersing bomblets of this color were dropped in the same areas as food parcels in Afghanistan by the US, resulting in dire consequences. Most color choices we make are not life threatening, but an in-depth study of color coding can increase awareness of how important color is in our world. In this course students will learn about the physical attributes of "factual" color and broaden their understanding of "actual" color in context. Do we all see color the same? In studying "factual" color students will learn how color perception works in the eye and brain. They will gain knowledge of the properties of color, history of pigments, identification of color and additive/subtractive color systems. Building on this information, students will look closely at "actual" color in context. Considering the psychological and cultural aspects of color, students will analyze and manipulate color through perceptual training and hands-on studio applications. Creative and personal expression is encouraged. This studio-based course will focus on increasing color awareness and build a consensus regarding color perception.
If we have more microbial cells that human cells, are we more microbe than human? Recent research on the human microbiome has led to exciting new insights about how we as humans interact with and rely on billions of microorganisms living in and on us. As we trace the history of microbiology, from the petri dish to sequencing the metagenome of entire microbial communities, we will discuss the fundamental biological principles that shape our understanding of the humanmicrobe partnership. We will examine news stories, scientific reports, popular books, websites, blogs, and podcasts to answer questions such as: Do probiotics really work? Can our microbiome make us fat? Do we own our microbiome? What can our microbiome tell someone about our habits or where we have been? We will examine these questions and more as they relate to human health and disease, and discuss the ethical, legal, and social concerns that have arisen as we learn more about our microbiomes.
“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (Theodosius Dobzhansky, 1973). In this course, students will study the nature of science in order to underscore the educational and societal need that we have today to confront the challenges presented by creationism and by the pseudoscience pervasive in our culture. Students will distinguish science from pseudoscience by applying the concepts of genetic change, the origin of species, evidence for evolution, patterns of diversity, phylogenetic relationships, and the evolution of humans. Drawing on information from historical, artistic, mathematical, medical, and literary fields, students will assess the impact of evolution in multiple disciplines. Implications about evolution for medicine and human diversity will enable students to examine ethical issues and understand the value of diversity in our species, Homo sapiens.
Global Infections and Personal Health
Infectious diseases, caused by harmful microbes (mainly viruses and bacteria), have been affecting humanity throughout history at epidemic and pandemic levels. The course examines the history of infectious diseases, the science underlying them, how the choices we make in our lives affect the spread of global infections, and what our obligations are as global citizens to control this spread. From time to time, we hear about newly emerging and reemerging diseases. Zika, a recent epidemic that emerged in South America, is causing birth defects. The Spanish flu of 1918 cost more lives than both World Wars, yet most Americans did not know about it until 2009, when a milder variant of H1N1 affected a younger population. Will history repeat itself? Will it be another flu virus of which we need to be vigilant or will it be a totally new virus for which we are not prepared? How do these new viruses evolve? Looking at more recent diseases, the world could bring a stop to Ebola spread in Africa, but will we be lucky next time? By investigating these questions, we can come up with an agenda to improve our personal health by paying attention to our riskier behaviors that favor the transmission of infectious disease. Topics include emerging viral infections, antibiotic-resistance, nosocomial infections, and travel advisories and their contribution to global infections.
Have you ever wondered why potatoes sprout in your cupboard? Why do plants even make potatoes in the first place? And is that sweet corn you eat in the summertime genetically modified? Who were the first people to eat corn, anyway? And did you know that cashews are closely related to poison ivy? Students will learn about basic plant biology through the lens of global agriculture, with an emphasis on asking and answering questions. The course explores how different plants are grown around the world to support human nutritional needs and culinary tastes. We will also get our hands dirty – literally – growing plants and visiting local gardens and field sites.
This course includes both lecture/discussion meetings and weekly labs. Students will grow their own gardens in the greenhouse and track the development of their plants from seed to fruit through both careful illustration and scientific observation. We will also perform several experiments to learn firsthand how plants grow, what they need to survive, and how they behave in different environments. Field trips to the on-campus Sprout garden and to FRESH New London will provide a hands-on introduction to local small-scale and community farming. On field trips to the Arboretum, we will look for evidence of colonial era farms right here in New London, and talk about how the Mashantucket Pequot raised crops here before the arrival of European colonists. Last but not least, we will learn how to identify members of some of the most important crop families grown around the world.
Coevolution of Plants and People
How have plants shaped human societies and how have humans shaped the plant world? What are the cultural and environmental consequences of the exploitation of plant resources? For much of our existence humans have depended on plants. Most of our food, in bulk and diversity, comes from plants. Plant materials provide shelter, warmth, light, and medicine. Plants intoxicate us and transport us to other spiritual worlds. In the form of flowers, plants provide a way to celebrate love and commemorate the dead. Plants present all kinds of resources that are utilized in various ways by different cultures, but they are generally ignored and taken for granted. In the face of climate change and the rapid transformation of our natural environment, understanding the plant world is of central importance for the maintenance of human societies. Students will learn the techniques used by ethnobotanists to study the relationship of people to their plant world. Through lectures, readings, films, discussions, excursions to the arboretum, and the preparation and sharing of foods, students will explore how humans and plants have coevolved to create the world that we live in today.How have plants shaped human societies and how have humans shaped the plant world? What are the cultural and environmental consequences of the exploitation of plant resources? For much of our existence humans have depended on plants. Most of our food, in bulk and diversity, comes from plants. Plant materials provide shelter, warmth, light, and medicine. Plants intoxicate us and transport us to other spiritual worlds. In the form of flowers, plants provide a way to celebrate love and commemorate the dead. Plants present all kinds of resources that are utilized in various ways by different cultures, but they are generally ignored and taken for granted. In the face of climate change and the rapid transformation of our natural environment, understanding the plant world is of central importance for the maintenance of human societies. Students will learn the techniques used by ethnobotanists to study the relationship of people to their plant world. Through lectures, readings, films, discussions, excursions to the arboretum, and the preparation and sharing of foods, students will explore how humans and plants have coevolved to create the world that we live in today.
How can radiation both cause and treat cancer? What is green chemistry and how can it be used to minimize environmental impact? How do scientists determine 800,000 years of temperature data from ice core samples? What caused the hole in the ozone layer and how do scientists determine how big it is? All of these questions can be answered using fundamental chemical principles. Chemistry is involved in almost every aspect of our everyday lives, from the air we breathe and water we drink, to the reactions that power our cars and provide energy to our homes. This course will present fundamental chemical principles in the context of real-world issues with an emphasis on issues related to the environment, such as air quality, ozone layer depletion, water consumption, energy, and climate change. Students will evaluate the concepts of risk assessment and global sustainably so that they can learn how scientific data is applied in the real world to issues concerning health and well-being of individuals, local communities, and the wider ecosystems that sustain life on this planet.
What enabled Athens to rise above other city-states to become the political and cultural center of ancient Greece? How did the conflicting ideals of competition and collaboration combine to lift the Greeks to political, economic and cultural heights never before seen in the western world? Why were the Greeks constantly at war? Through reading a selection of works of poetry, history and drama and examining the archaeological remains that present first-hand evidence of public and private life, the course considers these and other questions by investigating the world of the ancient Greeks from the Bronze Age to conquest by the Romans. The course explores the workings of Athenian democracy, trace the development of historical writing, and consider the origin in the Greek world of enduring issues such as the responsibilities of citizenship, the contributions and marginalization of women, foreigners, and slaves, and the development of a divide between east and west.
An exploration of Roman civilization, tracing the growth of Rome from a small hill town in Italy to the center of a vast and diverse Mediterranean empire. Through examining literature, laws, inscriptions, coins, works of art, and archaeological remains, students will do the work of an historian, uncovering and reconstructing the world of the Romans. How did the Romans succeed in establishing a long-lasting empire in a region that historically has been plagued by political, cultural, and religious divisions? What led to the eventual downfall of Rome? How has Rome influenced (for better and worse) the development of the Western world? The course considers these and other questions, drawing upon interdisciplinary approaches that provide insight into the political, economic, and social systems of the Roman world.
Stories entertain and discomfit; terrify and liberate. They deliver – and constitute – ideas. To craft the right story is, potentially, to sell a product; shape an identity; define a culture; “make” history. In this course students read (in English translation) and critically assess a range of narratives central to ancient Greek thought and later Western culture. By studying the texts within their original cultural and historical context, students acquire an overarching familiarity with ancient Greek culture and history. The course thus provides a sweeping view of ancient Greece, moving chronologically forward from the Archaic period to the 1st century CE. The course’s reading list spans several major divisions in the humanities: “literature” (Homer, Sappho); “history” (Herodotus, Thucydides); “philosophy” (Plato); “theater studies” (Sophocles); and “religious studies” (the New Testament). Yet the texts themselves predate those disciplinary divisions – and indeed helped to create them, by seeking to carve out new intellectual territory, offering competing ideas as to what a story can or should be about. Through reading, writing, interactive lectures, and in-class discussion, students compare the diverse uses to which story-telling is put by each text. The course thus equips students to recognize and address issues that remain vital today. When does a story become “literature,” and on what grounds? How do historians’ literary instincts shape the histories they write? How is a philosophical or religious message qualified, amplified, or undermined by the narrative that conveys it to us? In addition, students will assess the political implications of each text’s narrative: what it promotes; what avenues it opens or shuts; whom it valorizes or suppresses.
Hacking the Matrix to Discover Patterns in Science, the Arts, and Society
How can twitter-feeds reveal public opinion? Who authored the works of Shakespeare? How do you know when you have the "right" answer when analyzing data? Computational, statistical, and informatics/algorithmic methods can analyze any data that are captured in digital form, whether it be text, sequential data in general (such as experimental observations over time, or stock market and econometric histories), symbolic data (genomes), or image data. Informatics offers a means to see or discover patterns and relations without the filter of an "expert." Controversial issues such as implicit bias regarding gender, race, sexual orientation, and social status can often be revealed in an impartial way with the simplest informatics analyses, and when presented in a data mining context these problems can at last be acknowledged and addressed.
In this class, students will learn how to mine data to identify statistical anomalies or "signatures," revealing patterns and truths in a profoundly convincing way. Informatics provides a new means of analysis for many different disciplines, from the sciences to the arts and humanities. Course projects may include developing tools to predict specific genes in a genome, analyze twitter-feeds for public opinion surveying, study signals for nanopore detectors, search text for multiple meanings in the writings of Machiavelli, and determine authorship via iambic styles of different authors.
What is computer programming? How can computers be programmed to perform specific tasks such as playing music, displaying images, drawing graphics, and analyzing data for relevant information? Because they can be programmed to solve a wide variety of different problems, computers have become an essential part of every aspect of modern life. Students will learn the basic elements of programming with Python, exploring how these skills can be used to tackle a variety of real-world problems. They will have the opportunity to consider the role technology plays in everyday life and in a variety of disciplines, solving problems in areas such as visualization of text or data, political speech analysis, image processing, and sound manipulation. Students will also work with graphics and animation, simulation, object-oriented design, and text manipulation. Students will progress from writing simple programs to creating their own unique, self-designed final projects. These applications will enable students to connect acquired skills in programming and problem-solving to the wider perspectives of the liberal arts education and real-world problems.
In this course students will study issues related to #BlackLivesMatter, one of the most important social movements of our time, with ten professors, over ten weeks, through ten different disciplinary lenses and perspectives. Together, we will answer the call of student activists across the nation – to open up institutional spaces for the study of “Black lives” – as part of a broader intellectual project to create more equitable institutions, particularly of higher education. Designed as a teaching collective, this course will bring critical questions from a wide variety of disciplines to bear on the issues of structural inequality and (state) violence engaging questions such as: How does the grounding of #BLM in queer and feminist politics distinguish it from Civil Rights era leadership? How do housing, policing, and labor policies function to produce racial inequality? How can we understand the relationship between visual representation and racial formation? Finally, the course will not only work with students to understand the multiple manifestations of injustice but also to envision new possibilities and horizons. The 10x10x10 course is a signature course of the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) that draws upon the expertise of CCSRE faculty whose work engages the study of race, ethnicity, and social difference.
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics approaching, the dominance of South Korean technology in an intensely competitive global market, and China’s increasing economic presence on the world stage, the East Asian region is becoming pivotal to shaping the world in the 21st century. At the same time, the East Asian region is also enduring some of its greatest dangers, from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the threat of a nuclear North Korea, and China-led geopolitical disputes throughout the region. In this course, students will acquire the necessary tools for grappling with these issues and other such “controversies” in the East Asian region. Students will build their toolkit through the analysis of literature, film, art and music that deals with topics such as the historical memory of World War II, national identity, disputed territories and political tensions, fascism and communism, and issues of gender and sexuality. Through analyzing these cultural products, students will gain knowledge of and ability to understand and interpret the significance of these issues to the East Asian region, as well as to themselves as Connecticut College students.
How do we talk about superheroes, and in turn, how do superheroes talk about us and who we are as a people? Superheroes often act as symbolic figures that order our imaginations, teaching values such as friendship, loyalty, family and morality. Superheroes also act as national symbols, amassing attention, popularity, acclaim and capital. The course questions the role and the function of the superhero within culture by examining superheroes and similar figures from throughout the East Asian region. Why do these superheroes exist? How do these superheroes, who often originate as underdogs, capture our imaginations with their struggles? What do they mean, how do they mean, and why are their meanings significant? How do they articulate, via their bodily depictions, issues of nation, individual, (trans)nationalism, supernatural, trans/posthumanism, gender and sexuality? Students will explore depictions of notable heroes from the region such as the Monkey King and Hua Mulan in China, Momotaro, Ultraman and Godzilla in Japan, Robot Taekwon V in South Korea and Pulgasari in North Korea in order to ascertain their heroic properties and specific appeal to their respective audiences. Students will also scrutinize characters of East Asian origin in American superhero films in order to acquire a comparative framework for their analyses. In these investigations, students will examine a wide variety of materials across literature, film, television, comic books and animation in pursuit of the answers to questions about their nature and purpose.
"Shit Rolls Downhill"
The Wire, an HBO television series that ran from 2002-2008, is an ideal mechanism for studying how incentives drive individual behavior and how flawed incentive schemes infect society and cause social problems. A fictional account of urban life in Baltimore, Maryland, the show depicts the causes and consequences of crime through the perspectives of law enforcement, drug trafficking groups, politicians, educators, labor unions and members of the media. This course will use the five seasons of The Wire as a vehicle for studying how individual rationality and incentives affect the structure and fabric of society. Emphasis will be placed on how economic models of incentives can be applied across the segments of society that are featured on Update & Approvethe show and across the hierarchical levels that shape specific organizations. Students will be introduced to economic models of incentives and will then apply these models to contemporary social issues that connect to the characters and events in the show. By combining economic analysis with the show’s narrative and insight, students will explore, in an integrative and interdisciplinary way, how incentives and social structures govern life within cities and contribute to entrenched and sustained poverty.
Why do people tell stories? What’s in it for the listener? For the teller? What is it about our brains, our minds, that makes us love the act of story-telling, and the literary embodiments of that act, so much? Why do some stories survive while others are lost? Why do certain stories have so much meaning for us as individuals? And why are some stories so central to entire cultures? Taking story-telling to be a fundamental human drive, this course will explore the evolving relationship between storytelling and the mind through close reading of literary texts, with help from cognitive neuroscience and philosophy. As part of this exploration, we will investigate how knowledge is constructed in the field of literary study, and look at various ways in which this field interacts with other areas of study in the liberal arts. Covering a diverse range of course materials, the course will begin with one of the foundational texts of the Western literary canon (Homer’s Odyssey) and conclude with the work of a major African-American novelist (Toni Morrison’s Beloved). Literary works are particularly successful embodiments of the story-telling impulse, and we will consider these works in relation to the role that “story” plays in our everyday lives.
Climate change. Mass extinctions. Whether we are watching big-budget Hollywood disaster films or reading specialized scientific journals, crisis and even apocalypse have become watch-words of our contemporary ecological predicament. How do the categories and narratives that we use to conceptualize environmental issues affect how we respond? Students will engage contemporary ecological crises by investigating how concepts such as nature and sustainability have been imagined by different writers, in different genres, at distinct historical moments. They will learn to recognize and deconstruct some of the most common narrative tropes structuring environmental discourse, such as the pastoral ideal, pollution, wilderness, and apocalypse. As a result, students will be able to analyze and evaluate how narratives about nature shape contemporary conversations about the environment in popular culture and across disciplines. Key environmental concepts will be explored through an interdisciplinary range of course materials, including poetry, short stories, and novels; popular science writing and scientific journalism; nonfictional accounts of climate change; acts of Congress; and films. Authors may include Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Luther Standing Bear, Octavia Butler, Bill McKibben, Rachel Carson, and Aldo Leopold.
Imagining Central Asia
An 800-year-long literary journey across Central Asia – the area between Russia, Iran, India, and China, once connected through the famous Silk Road - awaits us in this course. In addition to diverse literary texts (an early Turkic epic, an emperor’s autobiography, an early European travel account, a Soviet science-fiction novel, to list a few), we will pay attention to other forms of artistic expression, including Persian miniature painting and recent Afghan cinema. Note that the title refers to three recurring types of individuals who have attracted much interest in literature, cinema, and art from and about the region, not necessarily the identities of our authors (even though some could fit them). We will ponder how various empires, such as the Moghul, Russian/Soviet, British, and most recently, our own, American, reverberate across Central Asia. Interdisciplinarity will never leave our side, as students learn to contextualize the individual works historically, ascertain their political and aesthetic properties, follow their intertextual links, and consider them in light of currents events. Some larger themes to be covered are: poetic traditions and storytelling; post-Communism and postcolonialism; ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion; food, drink, and luxury goods; the environment, technology, utopia and dystopia. Authors include (in English translation) Marco Polo, Babur Shah, Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, Galsan Tschinag, Chingiz Aitmatov, Atiq Rahimi, and two contemporary Anglophone novelists.
What makes a world city? How did Berlin develop from a provincial capital into a great cultural and political center, a quintessential modern world city? In this course, Berlin will serve as a window through which to examine the major developments in Germany over the last two-and-a-half centuries, including the unification of Germany, two world wars, the rise of the Nazis, and the division of the city during the Cold War. Students will develop an understanding of the evolution of a city by placing the city of Berlin within its historical and cultural contexts while at the same time learning about its physical development. By examining the intense debates over buildings such as the Royal Palace and the Reichstag, museums and monuments, as well as parks, streets, and other urban spaces, students will learn about the new Berlin republic's determination to foster a democratic and inclusive public discourse around contentious and charged issues, and develop the ability to evaluate all kinds of cities in a similar manner. At the end of the course, students will have been exposed to a model of interdisciplinary studies, that is, one example of how the same object of study, here Berlin, may be examined by two different intellectual disciplines in ways that sometimes converge and sometimes diverge.
Torture, Hollywood, and Transitional Justice Post 9/11
Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, and the resultant U.S.-led "Global War on Terror," torture has been a popular money maker for Hollywood film and television producers. While "torture in Hollywood" existed pre-9/11, the portrayal of torture since then has taken on several new dimensions: the number of scenes of torture increased dramatically in this time period; the torturers are portrayed as heroic figures; and torture is almost invariably portrayed as "working." The course is an examination of these trends in the popular cultural portrayal of torture in Hollywood productions. The course also explores the social-scientific question "so what?" What are the potential implications of Hollywood's portrayal of torture since 2001, especially in the public policy and justice realms? The particular portrayal of torture by Hollywood in the post 9/11 era -- the heroic (if reluctant) torturers saving lives as a result of their actions while taking down terrorists -- not only reflects the particular political zeitgeist of this era, but also influences how Americans "feel" about torture. The course explores two consequences: the impact of Hollywood's portrayal of torture on public support for its use by Americans and the impact it has on support for bringing torturers to justice in the United States.
The man from Independence. Ike. JFK. LBJ. Tricky Dick. Jerry. Jimmy. The Great Communicator. Bush 41. Slick Willie. Dubya. No Drama Obama. As these names suggest, the American public has alternately praised and condemned its chief executives for being imperial and populist, ambitious and inspirational, statesmen and partisans. What remains constant is the deeply engrained expectation that U.S. presidents will be heroic patriarchs, self-made men who dedicate themselves to the national interest. Gender, race, sexuality, and religion are constitutive of the presidency. Whether they are on the campaign trail or in the Oval Office, candidates and officeholders alike struggle to prove that they are “presidential.” Yet presidents do not govern alone. The president is also at the heart of a complex executive bureaucracy. To study the president is to study executive leadership in a rich and complicated organizational, political, partisan context. The questions we will ask and debate include: Who is popularly perceived as having “presidential timber”? Who do presidents nominate and Senators confirm for elite posts in the executive branch? What does this selectivity reveal about the workings of power in the U.S. society and political system? How do presidents set their political agendas? How do presidents make decisions? What are the consequences of these agendas and decisions for voters and constituents? When do presidents lobby Congress? When do presidents pursue litigation in the Supreme Court? What are the consequences of their strategies for the constitutional system of checks-and-balances?
From The Big Bang to the Future of Humanity and the Cosmos
Since the eighteenth century, physicists and astronomers have been piecing together the history of the universe and our solar system; geologists the history of our planet; evolutionary biologists the history of life on Earth; and archaeologists the history of humanity before written records. Realizing this, some historians have breached the walls between history and prehistory, and between the social and natural sciences, to create a continuous narrative account of everything we know about the past: Big History. Using a textbook and an extended theoretical essay written by leading figures in this emerging field, this course focuses on the fundamental forces that have shaped change and continuity across the 13.8 billion years of observable time. By exploring processes and themes common to natural and human history, students will receive basic training for a lifetime practice of situating everything they learn within the complex web of similarities, and differences, between human behavior and natural phenomena. They will also have the tools to develop their own ideas about how best to meet the challenges of the present, and shape the future, for the benefit of humanity and the natural systems upon which all life depends.
An Introduction to the History of the United States
This course recasts the traditional survey of United States history through the thematic frame of “natives and newcomers.” Narrowly constructed, the concept of “native and newcomers” evokes two familiar topics in US history courses: the encounters between the diverse indigenous peoples of North America with Euro-American settler colonialists and the often hostile relationships between voluntary and involuntary immigrants, including African slaves, and the “nativist” Americans who are empowered to define their status. Less expectedly, the course will use this framework to reframe other critical episodes and issues in the American past, including the American Revolution and early national period; abolitionism and social reform; slavery and emancipation the Civil War and Reconstruction; first, second and third wave feminist movements; industrialization and the labor movement; the Progressive era; the Great Depression and New Deal; Japanese internment in the second world war; the red and lavender scares of the 1950s; the multi-faceted Freedom movements of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s; the Reagan Revolution; and the role of the American military abroad, among others. In sum, the concept of seeing the American past through “natives and newcomers” will redefine American history as a struggle for power in its traditional sense - a battle for control over land, freedom, wealth, citizenship, and political power - and also in its cultural connotation - a battle for control over the meaning and production of American identity.
What is the best way to live a more meaningful, fulfilling, and ethical life? How might human society be organized to best encourage human flourishing and peaceful co-existence? Classical Chinese thinkers engaged in on-going debates about these important human questions and the powerful and persuasive answers they proposed remain relevant today as China, the United States, and nations around the world undergo rapid globalization. Students interested in exploring ethical, political, spiritual, and philosophical approaches to living a more meaningful life in this global age marked by the dominance of material and consumer culture are invited to ponder the answers that classical Chinese thinkers devised in response to these questions of human perennial concern.
Does the word “globalization” adequately account for the processes we see in our world today? Whose story is the globalization story? Does this story of globalization apply equally to all societies and peoples? On whose behalf does globalization work and who is left out? Students will consider whether the term “globalization” is too value neutral, implying as it does that places and peoples across the world are coming together in search of harmony and collaboration around common purposes and goals. Students will read both advocates and critics of “globalization discourse” and consider instead whether “empire” is a better name for properly describing the relations of power across the globe, where hierarchy, difference, subordination, and erasure are increasingly produced for the majority of the world’s people. Many argue that ever since the 1980s, humans have come increasingly to inhabit an unequally globalizing world. Critics of globalization warn that many more people are being left out than included in the processes of connection. Since the 1970s, inequality, poverty, dispossession, and alienation characterize far more people than ever in the past. People are more mobile, objects and ideas are produced transnationally, borders are traversed and eroding, and technology overcomes numerous communication barriers, but rather than leave the nation-state behind, more borders and boundaries have been constructed in the past few decades to secure exclusive rights for select citizens. Transformations of mobility and reconfigurations of space generate new registers of representations, new identities, new subjectivities, and new structures of power and inequality. Students will take a long view of the past to explore the histories of processes of connection and fragmentation that have shaped the contemporary human experience.
The American West in the Age of Empire, 1802-1917
Is the settlement of the “Wild West” something unique to the American experience, something so exceptional and significant that can even explain America’s history and culture? Or is it simply the American version of the expansionist and imperialist impulse shared by all powerful capitalist nations in the 19th century? This class examines the major period of Euro-American settlement of the vast lands west of the Mississippi River. But it goes far beyond the familiar story of “cowboys and Indians.” In the same years when all European and some Asian powers expanded territory and exported governance, culture, racial ideologies, and economic structures abroad through colonization, the young United States sought to do the much the same on its “frontier.” At the same time, the great American West of myth - full of self reliant pioneers, freedom loving cowboys, friendly prostitutes, gold miners, ranchers, and gamblers - was born, in novels, painting, photographs, wild west shows, and films, which themselves spread rapidly around the globe. The importance of the frontier to the nation’s idea of itself was reflected in the terrible anxiety Americans felt when in 1890 when the census announced the frontier was “closed.” This event set the stage for military expansionism into the Philippines, Cuba, and Central America and indeed a new role for American power in the 20th and 21st century world.
How truly free and independent are we from the influence of the state? How much do state and public forces shape our identities and sense of belonging? Do the state, "civil society," and "the public sphere" truly represent the will of the people, or do they privilege the priorities of some over others? What does "the public" really mean? A "robust public sphere" -- in which average citizens freely debate issues pertaining to state and society in everyday spaces like cafes, bars, park benches, and other venues not only outside the halls of government but also free from the pressures of state surveillance -- is often considered a defining feature of modernity. However, postcolonial, anarchist, and queer activists and scholars have questioned how truly free, independent, and inclusive "the public sphere" is. Students in this course will examine the complexities and contentions around ideas like politics, modernity, public, private, the state, community, identity, and queerness, and analyze different approaches scholars and activists have taken to understand, alter, or even disrupt relationships between public and private, individual and community, and queerness and identity.
What were the causes and the consequences of the First World War and how, a century after “the Guns of August” first rang out, does it still affect our political and cultural world today? Students will explore these questions from an interdisciplinary perspective. They will use traditional historical analysis and primary sources, but will also look at the war through other lenses: photography and the rise of film; literature and the arts; popular music; architecture and cultural memory; gender and the nation; technology; and public health. Students will learn to “de-center” the war, recognizing that traditional narratives often privilege the British, French, or American experience and neglect people in places far from Western Europe, including Russia, Serbia, Egypt, Australia, and Turkey, who also fought and died in this global cataclysm. Finally, students will explore how the war ushered in the era of modernism in culture and politics and will connect the questions it raised about duty, honor, citizenship, and obligation to events and conflicts in our world today.
How do companies like UPS and FedEx come up with efficient routes for their delivery trucks? How do sports conferences like the NFL create their game schedule each season? The course focuses on the use of networks, which are more generally called graphs, as a modeling tool to answer questions like these from diverse fields. Applications of graphs are everywhere: solving puzzles and games, visualizing molecules, routing snowplows, scheduling courses, sequencing traffic lights, analyzing food webs, representing data in a computer, and describing interpersonal relationships. By studying historical and contemporary puzzles and problems, students will be introduced to the origins and fundamental concepts of graph theory with the goal of then utilizing their knowledge of graphs to solve real-world problems in the practical applications that emerge.
This course explores the nature of music through an introduction to the field of music theory, considering the complex roles of theorist, performer, listener, composer, and historian. We will grapple with such questions as: how an understanding of rudiments enhances our relationship with music; how musical materials (rhythm, melody, harmony, form) function across genres; how musical meaning and effect are created; why certain types of Western art music occupy a privileged position in music-theoretical discourse; and to what extent the concepts of this course can be brought to bear on other repertoires (popular music and non-Western traditions). Coursework will include an intensive review of the rudiments of music theory (clefs, notation, meter, key signatures, scales, intervals, triads, seventh chords), the development of musicianship skills, exercises in counterpoint and elementary composition, attending concerts, and undertaking primary source readings. The canonical position of Western art music in the study of music will be examined through the application of course topics to musics both within and outside of the traditional canon. In addition, as a ConnCourse, this class will make connections across the liberal arts, addressing questions that may include: how do musical structures display mathematical logic, how can dance choreography reflect musical meter, how might certain musical styles interact with theater and film, and how can a consideration of cognition enhance the study of music theory?
How much can we really know about dinosaurs, given the incompleteness of the fossil record? How and why have representations of dinosaurs changed over time? This course offers an introduction to the history and philosophy of dinosaur science, with attention to the broader cultural and historical context of paleontological research. For example, how has fieldwork in paleontology, past and present, been involved with nationalism and colonialism? Why does field science seem so male dominated, even though some of the most successful early fossil collectors (Mary Anning and Mary Ann Mantell) were women? What are some of the ethical and legal issues concerning the collection and sale of fossils? The course also connects traditional questions in the philosophy of science (e.g., how do scientists reconstruct the deep past?) with contemporary environmental concerns. How has dinosaur science shaped our understanding of environmental catastrophe? And finally, does dinosaur science challenge religious belief? Does it challenge human-centered value systems? The class will include field trips to see dinosaur trackways in the Connecticut River Valley, the Peabody Museum at Yale, and/or the Beneski Museum of Natural History in Amherst, MA.
What do the Saami in Sweden share with inhabitants of the mangroves of Bangladesh? In many sites around the world global demand for natural resources, such as inexpensive shrimp or paper products, compete with indigenous religious communities’ practices and their relations with the natural environment. Students examine the ethical dimensions of humans’ interactions with the environment, the philosophy of deep ecology, and the impacts felt by indigenous religious communities. Through the study of religious traditions, news stories, scientific studies on environmental destruction, and historical records, students explore different indigenous religious communities’ responses to the following questions: What is “nature” and why do we value it? What cosmological dimensions relate humans to nature? How do traditions and teachings support or challenge the idea of nature as simply a utilitarian resource? We will also examine how deep ecology has informed new practices among Christians and Muslims.
Meet the Slavs
Who are the Slavs and why study them? Taken together, Slavic-speaking countries occupy a sixth part of the globe and have played substantial and often decisive role in world history, science and culture (suffice it to name Stalin or Pope John Paul II, Copernicus or Mendeleev, Chopin or Tolstoy). Objectively, Slavic is a linguistic category transformed in the course of the 19th century into an ethno-cultural one. The leading role in this transformation was played by Slavic Studies - the principal site of producing and negotiating Slavic identities. This interdisciplinary course draws on a variety of media (scholarly texts, film, fiction, political cartoons, medieval chronicles) to introduce students to the history of Slavic Studies and the cultures of Eastern Europe. Although we will discuss all of the Slavic cultures at various points throughout the semester, we will focus on three (one “new” and two former) countries - Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia - to more closely examine their development as representatives of East, West, and South Slavic peoples, sampling in the process the dynamics of the integrative / separatist tendencies among the Slavs. Special attention will be paid to nation building (e.g., Macedonia vis-à-vis its continuous contestation by neighbors) and nation breaking (e.g., the peaceful “divorce” of Czechoslovakia vs. the violent destruction of Yugoslavia). We will also discuss non-Slavic peoples (Jews, Roma, Turks, Hungarians and Romanians) whose history is closely related to that of the Slavs. The Roma, one of the most underprivileged nations today with long history of persecution, will be the focus of separate discussion. Other topics to be addressed are: the political divide between East and West; empires and colonized peoples; religious traditions; the rise of national cultures; insurrections and revolutions; communist regimes; and the political aftermath following the fall of the Soviet Union.
How do people explore, imagine, and distinguish themselves as Hispanic? The goal of this interdisciplinary course is for students to compare and contrast Spain, Latin America, Latino cultures, the global and local, to understand how Hispanic identity is constructed from inside and outside. Students will debate the trope of identity by engaging with a variety of genres and social media including diaries, portraits, blogs, short stories, websites, poetry, music, novel and performance. Popular cultural pieces addressing machismo, mestizaje, and salsa (culture), for example, contest elite foundational narratives of nation, race, environment, style, and social class (Culture). Connecting to the world around us, students cultivate active learning through problem-based activities and collaborative writing projects.
How problematic is racial profiling in America? What does it mean to be “below the poverty line”? Are some countries “happier” than others? If so, how do we know? These social justice and social policy questions are often examined using quantitative data. The importance of data in public discourse around these issues gives statistics the power to change society. With great power, however, comes great responsibility. This course is not about simply using data related to topical news items to learn statistical techniques. It is about how the responsible use of statistics can help us understand and address the most important questions facing society. To that end, the course begins with the study of the philosophical underpinnings of the question, “what makes a society just?” Through the original works of Aristotle, Rawls, Dworkin, and others, students will be introduced to traditional approaches for framing social justice questions. Students will develop statistical techniques in exploratory data analysis, experimental design, sampling, and regression using data aimed at addressing social policy and social justice questions. Students will combine their knowledge of the philosophy of justice with statistical techniques to address issues of social justice in the world around them.
HIV/AIDS is a crisis of our lifetime, and artists were among the first to document its role in history. In this course we will analyze theater created in response to the AIDS epidemic from the first documentation of the disease in 1981 to the present. We will consider these works from interdisciplinary perspectives, drawing on politics, economics, and changing medical discourse and practice in order to understand how the embodiment of HIV on stage reflects changing medical and social conditions. After exploring how public knowledge about AIDS has been constructed, we consider the creation and impact of artistic interventions. Through comparison with popular press coverage of key moments in the history of HIV/AIDS in the United States, we examine plays and performance as historical evidence contributing to a cultural chronicle of the epidemic. In conversation with New London’s AIDS Service Organization, Alliance for Living, students examine the connections among the local, national, and global histories of the epidemic and make them personal through their own performances, interviews, and awareness-building events.
Eugene O’Neill, the revolutionary of the American theater, won four Pulitzer Prizes and is the only American playwright to have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. He is credited with creating a new American theater, a theater of realism, a style that is common place today. Prior to O’Neill’s entrance into the theater world, American theater companies were producing melodramas and spectacles that revolved around high society. O’Neill broke tradition by writing plays that depicted the working class in realistic settings and situations. O’Neill was an innovator and an artist who took risks and challenged himself and American society; paving the way for the next generations of great American playwrights, including Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and Tony Kushner.
This course explores the question of how the world around us influences an individual’s creative journey. Does that individual maintain the status quo or revolt against it? We will explore O’Neill’s plays in cultural, historical, and biographical contexts and see how New London, O’Neill’s boyhood home, influenced and is portrayed in his work. During the course we will visiting the Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport Museum, while we study O’Neill’s play that is set aboard a whaling ship. We will also tour New London and visit locations that are relevant to O’Neill’s life and hold a class session at the Monte Cristo Cottage, which is the setting for O’Neill’s greatest play, Long Day’s Journey into Night. In addition to the museum visits, students will utilize the primary documents that are in the Sheaffer-O’Neill Collection in at the Linda Lear Center for Collections and Archives in Shain Library. The collection includes letters, interviews, and photographs that give great insight into Eugene O’Neill, his work, and the American theater.